Who Has it Harder: Stay-at-Home Dads, Working Dads or Working Moms?

Last Updated May 4, 2011 2:17 PM EDT

Many a couple have disagreed about which is more stressful: Working in an office all day, or staying at home and taking care of the kids. From the way some men talk about dreams of leaving their stressful jobs to be a stay-at-home dad, it's clear they think work work is harder than housework.

"I would be the world's happiest SAHD (Stay-at-Home Dad)," wrote Austin Murphy in his book How Touch Could It Be? The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad. "I'd cook, carpool, fold laundry, and find out how it feels to be, well, Laura," he wrote, referring to his stay-at-home wife (after they switched roles, he saw the error of his dreams).

But the research suggests another story.

One study found that stay-at-home dads are twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who work in an office. According to the Daily Mail, which reported on the study,

American researchers followed 3,600 men and women living in Framingham, Massachusetts, over a ten-year period to identify the impact of occupation on health.

Those men who had become house husbands had dramatically poorer health, Dr Elaine Eaker - who led the study - told the American Heart Association's annual conference in Hawaii.

Men who considered themselves house husbands for most of their adult life were 82 per cent more likely to die over the ten-year period compared with their counterparts who worked.

The link between men staying at home and poor health held true even when other factors such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass index, smoking and diabetes were taken into account.


In 2008, an estimated 140,000 married fathers worked in the home as their children's primary caregivers.

Who Is More Stressed Out: At Home Moms or Working Moms

Whether being a stay at home parent is more stressful for dads or moms is not known. But contrary to the image of the working mom as constantly frazzled, a study by the Pew Research Center finds mothers who stay at home are about as likely to say they frequently feel stressed as those who work full or part time.
Why At-Home Dads Are So Stressed
The research suggests a couple theories.

1. Men who are taking care of the kids full time may have less of a support system. As a result, they feel more isolated and have fewer men to confide in about the difficulties of raising children, cooking dinner and keeping the house in order.

2. Women may be better multi-taskers, and so they can better handle the competing demands of the household.

3. Men may underestimate just how difficult and stressful it is to raise children, which is something to get realistic about if you're considering the stay-at-home job or if you keep telling your stay-at-home partner that you have more stress. Getting co-workers to cooperate on a major initiative is a piece of cake compared to getting a six-year-old to put on his sneakers to get to school on time, which, in turn, is easier than trying to cook dinner while helping with homework and refereeing sibling rivalries.

4. Men aren't aware of just how stressed out they are. This may be a wake-up call for all stay at home parents of children 18 and younger. You may be more stressed than you realize and it may be affecting your health. Get regular physicals, have your blood pressure checked, and make sure you're carving out time to exercise and relax (which of course requires the help of your working partner) in order to help reduce your risk of stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

    If you're married to an at-home partner, do you think you have more or less stress than your spouse, and what makes your or his/her life so stressful?

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    Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines and websites. Follow her on twitter.
    Photo courtesy of flickr user Tarter Time Photography
    • Laurie Tarkan

      Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for The New York Times and many national magazines. She is a contributing editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and the author of three books, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility, Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy and My Mother's Breast: Daughters Ace Their Mothers' Cancer.. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaurieTarkan.